Gunsmoke was already entrenched in American culture as one of the most popular radio programs of its day by the time it debuted a televised version on this date. It did pretty okay on TV too: the iconic Western ran for 20 seasons and produced 635 episodes—more than any other live-action American drama in the medium’s history (nearly 200 more than closest competitor Law & Order). For the move from radio to TV, James Arness stepped into the lead role as Marshall Matt Dillon, who kept Dodge City, KS safe from various outlaws and varmints.
The first episode was introduced by an endorsement from none other than John Wayne. He dubbed the show “honest,” “adult,” and “realistic,” thus lending some credibility to a programming genre that was then widely viewed as the province of young boys. The only other TV show to receive such a seal of approval from The Duke was a short-lived, gritty adaptation of Thomas The Tank Engine, which reimagined the titular train as a 1970s-era New York City subway car. -A.D.
Today’s Birthdays: Colin Firth, dashing Darcy (52); Philip Baker Hall, library cop (81); Clark Johnson, Balmar police (58); Bill O’Reilly, Colbert impersonator (63).